Congress Ruses to Foil Saffron Surge in Kerala, Bengal

BJP veteran O Rajagopal came in third, but with an impressive 34,000 votes—a five-time jump over its usual tally.

Published: 05th July 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th July 2015 09:34 AM   |  A+A-

Congress Ruses

NEW DELHI: Is the Congress, the biggest victim of the BJP’s rise in the last couple of years, using the saffron ‘surge’ to its advantage? It would seem so—especially vis-a-vis its other rival-cum-friend, the Left, in the two states where they enjoy a peculiar love-hate relationship, Kerala and Bengal. In starkly, and ironically, different ways though.

The latest twist in their tortuous ties came with the Congress and a certain sections of the CPI(M) sending signals about having a possible tacit understanding “nearer’’ the crucial 2016 Assembly poll in Bengal. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, however, has been clarifying to the contrary.

“Understanding only within Parliament,’’ is the Yechury line, meant as much for the CPI(M)’s West Bengal cadre as the alliance-seekers. But before that, a curious game had played out in Kerala.

In the recent by-election to the Aruvikkara assembly seat, which the Congress candidate K S Sabrinandhan won, party leaders are now admitting to having helped the BJP secure more votes so that the anti-incumbency tally against it got divided.

BJP veteran O Rajagopal came in third, but with an impressive 34,000 votes—a five-time jump over its usual tally. The LF candidate M Vijayakumara came in second in the Nair-dominated constituency.

“Yes, we organised about 25,000 votes for the BJP,” a senior leader from Kerala said on condition of anonymity. “We wanted to divide the votes against us. The BJP still got about 5,000 votes more than we expected.”

The BJP’s decent show was one of the points that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi raised with Kerala CM Oommen Chandy in their post-poll meeting on Friday.

Officially, Chandy and other leaders explain it away as a factor of popular Rajagopal having been the candidate. But others point out Rajagopal himself has never drawn such a ratio of votes before.

All three put up Nair candidates. “Do you think we could have won without the Nairs voting for us?” asked AICC general secretary P C Chacko. Indeed, Sukumar Nair, the bossman of community body NSS, had made a big splash just before the poll by rebuffing superstar Suresh Gopi, a BJP man now.

But on the ground, the Congress was worried about the Left mopping up all the anti-votes due to the Chandy government’s picture among the Nairs as a regime that kowtows to minority blocs.

And so the double game was played out. The poll itself was portrayed as a contest between the Congress and the BJP to shore up the latter’s chances and damage its chief threat, the Left.

In Bengal, too, the Congress is using the bogey of a saffron rise to clinch a deal with the Left, overt or otherwise “Friendly fights” in some constituencies, intones a Congress strategist, using typical election lingo.

The BJP’s new electoral presence in two hitherto virgin states for the saffron party has become a decisive though contradictory factor in shaping Congress-Left ties.

A quick SWOT analysis of the two parties in these states—strength, weakness, opportunities, threat—shows a fascinating picture of flux. Especially so in Bengal, which is where the game moves to next for the crucial Assembly polls in 2016, coinciding with Kerala’s.

CPI-M leader Nilotpal Basu said, “There is a visible anti-Mamata sentiment now.” The biggest task for the Left is to ensure that this anti-incumbency vote flows towards it, and not the BJP.

The Congress could become crucial in consolidating the anti-Mamata vote and keeping it away from the BJP. After dilly-dallying over the issue, the CPI(M) state leaders, at least a section, are not averse to an “understanding” with the Congress.


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